Capitals collapse in Game 7, lose 6-2 to Pittsburgh

May 13, 2009 | Drew Forrester

If tonight’s Game 7 of the Caps-Penguins series would have doubled as a court case, Washington would have been charged with “failure to appear”.

Likewise, if Game 7 would have been a horse race, the Caps performance in the Daily Racing Form would have been chronicled with this:  ”No energy to start, listless throughout, never a factor”.

If Game 7 was a credit card belonging to the Caps, it would have expired on 5/12/09.  The card was of no value tonight.

This time around, there wasn’t a bush-league penalty call in overtime that wrecked Washington’s spring fling with Lord Stanley.  No, this game was decided by the players.   And the Penguins ended it early with four goals in the first 23 minutes of the game to turn out the (red) lights on Washington’s thrilling run through two rounds of post-season play.

Tonight at Verizon Center, it was apparent from the beginning who the better team was — and it wasn’t the team in red.

There were goats-a-plenty in DC tonight.  Simeon Varlamov clearly had a disaster in net, allowing four goals on 18 shots including a pair of goals 8 seconds apart late in the first period.  To borrow a hockey term, Varlamov was “fighting the puck” from the outset and never looked comfortable.  Regardless of the Game 7 outcome, though, the rookie netminder was the main reason why the do-or-die game even took place — so it’s hard to come down on him too much.

Others, however, were equally disappointing on Wednesday night.  Mike Green and Shaone Morrisonn were dismal in the defensive end.  Green, in fact, was a putrid -3 before Bruce Boudreau mercifully ended his post-season early in the 3rd period. Morrisonn was beaten soundly throughout the first two periods and was on the ice for all three Penguins goals in the middle stanza.

The goal that told the story, though, was the second tally of the contest.  After a face-off win by the Pens, the puck slid to the boards where Alexander Semin gave a half-hearted effort and allowed his man to scoot past him untouched.  Seconds later, Craig Adams finished off the chance and the Caps trailed 2-0.  It was that kind of lazy play from Washington that was the difference in Game 7.  Pittsburgh skated hard, went to the net, and, protected their goal well.  The Caps looked out of gas and disinterested.  Semin’s pansy-play along the boards showed the Penguins all they needed to know — Washington just didn’t want it as badly as Pittsburgh did on Wednesday night.

Bruce Boudreau will have all summer to think about his rookie goaltender and the decision to leave him in after Bill Guerin’s early 2nd period goal made it 3-0.  At that point, 45 miles up the road in Baltimore, I was saying to myself, “Dude, get the kid out of there — he doesn’t have it tonight.  Get him out of there.”  Not quite two minutes later, I got my wish…but only after Varlamov gave up another goal (Kris Letang) to make it 4-0.  I doubt the Caps would have stormed back from 3-0 down had Boudreau yanked Varly after the Guerin goal — but it was a move the coach COULD have made at that juncture.

Down 5-1 going into the 3rd period, I’m wondering why Boudreau didn’t at least pull the goaltender when the Caps got the puck in the Penguins defensive zone.  Oh, that’s right, the Caps never had the puck in the Penguins defensive zone.

A 6-2 loss smells of a goaltender/defensive letdown and, to some degree, it was just that on Wednesday night.  However, the real culrprit was Pittsburgh’s staunch defense and Washington’s inability to generate any offensive pressure.  Only a pair of mercy-goal-gifts to Ovechkin and Laich kept this stinker from being a complete and utter embarrassment.

Actually, it WAS a complete and utter embarrassment, come to think of it.

Ovechkin had a terrific scoring opportunity five minutes into the game that was stymied by Marc-Andre Fleury and that’s the last we saw of “The Great 8″ until Fleury misplayed a puck late in period #2 and Ovie stuffed it in to make the score 5-1. On the whole though, it was not one of 8′s better nights.  And that’s being kind.

Nicklas Backstrom was a no-show on Wednesday night, along with Semin and Viktor Kozlov, as the three of them combined for four shots on goal.  David Copperfield couldn’t have made them disappear any more quickly on a Sunday night TV special.

And, oh, by the way, it should be noted that the Penguins have a good hockey team.

They outplayed Washington in Games 1 and 2 and lost them both — but that didn’t finish them off.  Instead, they went on to win three straight games before bowing in OT in Game 6, then returned to the ice in DC tonight to end the Caps season.

Pittsburgh deserved to win the series, even if it took 7 games to prove they’re better.

For the Caps, a loss is a loss is a loss.  It doesn’t matter if it’s Joffrey Lupul stuffing in a backbreaking OT game-winner or the Penguins erupting for four scores in 23 minutes of play.  They’re losses, all the same.

This one, for me, anyway, will be much easier to accept and digest than that fiasco last April against the Flyers and Don Koharski.

This time around, the Caps were outplayed.

Tonight, with the series on their sticks, in familiar surroundings, Washington laid the egg of all eggs.

So much for home ice advantage.

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